Bluegrass Banjo Rolls: Beginners — Get your right hand going strong... Intermediate players — limber up for practice... Advanced players — warm up for the show!
Here's an easy open string roll to start you out, usually calles the "alternating" roll, so-called because the thumb alternates between the third and fourth on notes 1 and 5 while the rest of the notes are the same in each half. In this and all the rolls, try to get evenness in timing, tone and volume.
Here's the "forward-reverse" roll (a.k.a "forward-backward" roll). I like this one because variations of it get used in songs quite a bit. It's a good one for exercises where you run chords up and down the neck.
This is a forward roll. By "forward" and "reverse" I refer to the direction of a roll that doesn't skip a finger — it will either go forward (T-I-M) or reverse (M-I-T). Both should be practiced a lot. This particular one sticks in the two notes at the front to complete the eight eighth notes in the measure.
I don't know what to call this one. It's the right hand pattern for a very common lick that's the banjo equavalent to the "Lester Flatt G Run." It goes both forward and reverse. Unlike the forward reverse roll, it doesn't have a 5th string between the forward and reverse parts.
This roll becomes the first lick of the song Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Notice the third note, where the thumb strikes the second string. "Horrors!" say some banjo teachers. Not me. "Drop thumb" is as legimate a move in 3-finger style as it is in frailing. If you wish to use the index finger twice instead of using the thumb, feel free. I just do what's easiest for me.
This roll is the open string version of the first line of the song Cumberland Gap. "Pinch" means play those strings at the same time. Note the combination of eighth notes (the tied-together ones) and quarter notes (the free-standing ones). If you're counting beats, go, "one-and-two-and three, four." Or if this helps, "budda, budda, bump, bump." Or something like that.
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